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Foil Characters In One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich By Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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Foil characters acquire specific qualities that are similar to those of a protagonist, but behave in a different manner. Generally, they act as points of comparison which emphasizes qualities of the main character. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn includes strategically placed foils of the main character, Shukhov, who play to create contrast in which, to a vast extent, characterizes him as an anti-hero. Alyosha’s spiritual focus, in parallel to Shukhov’s more physical mindset, illustrates Shukhov’s trait of motivation through self-preservation.

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After Alyosha says that one must only pray for daily bread, Shukhov asks: “Our ration, you mean?”. The two Zeks are alike because of their critical states in the gulags, although their ways of preservation vary completely. A religious mentality generally associates to a moral background which Shukhov states he does not possess. Shukhov’s existential perception of the bread emphasizes anti-heroism because he is motivated for no one other than himself, not even God. Shukhov continues to explain that prayer serves no purpose because “however much you pray it doesn’t shorten your stretch”. This further establishes Shukhov’s lower religious priority, hence his anti-hero qualities. Alyosha the Baptist’s presence as a foil in this scene is crucial because he is the only character capable of extracting such response from Shukhov. The topic is able to be fluidly brought into consideration because of Alyosha’s previous establishment as a religiously driven character. In addition to highlighting Shukhov’s physical survival, Alyosha’s presence serves to compose Shukhov as disobedient. While explaining his degree of faith, Shukhov states that “[he does] believe in God. But he doesn’t believe in paradise or in hell”. The two foil one another because both men have belief in God, however they differ in their trust of religion. Although Alyosha serves the Church passionately and without question, Shukhov disagrees to aimlessly believe in any establishment. His divergence from the manner of a religious man illustrates him as an anti-hero compared to Alyosha’s religious loyalty. To a certain extent he understands Alyosha’s religious determination in prison, but Shukhov ponders “for whose sake is he there?”. He questions his position in the world from a religious standpoint and cannot validate in believing in a system which does not justify his existence. While a stereotypical hero may emerge as a leader within a certain system, Shukhov has trouble obeying any such organization. Alyosha is a necessary foil to Shukhov because Shukhov appears impious and disobedient when in comparison with one another. Captain Buinovsky plays another important foil to Shukhov because his wisdom and culture juxtapose Shukhov’s inadequacy of education. Upon seeing Fetiukov gathering old cigarette buds, Buinovsky states that “you’ll get syphilitic lip that way. Stop it”. Buinovsky proves that he has prior education before being sent to the gulags, a distinct trait compared to other prisoners.

Since no Zek acknowledges the idea of syphilitic lip, Solzhenitsyn suggests that none of them, including Shukhov, are educated enough to obtain knowledge about the disease. Knowledge is a quality of a hero, and this is yet another quality which Shukhov does possess. After work, the captain speaks culturally to Tsezar about a movie and states that “the scenes on board are somewhat artificial”.

03 December 2019

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